A workshop designed to get educators to think about what it means to be an inspirational teacher, why it matters, how we can strive to be more inspirational, and how schools can impact our ability to inspire our students.
Stephen: Hi. My name is Stephen Rowcliffe and I'm the head of the ESS Department at UWCSEA Dover. I've been teaching there for about 16 years and I'm going to talk to you today about inspirational teaching. This is the result of a two year long project that my colleague Judson Tomlin and I worked on together. And our aim was as it says on the slides to come to some conclusion about the characteristics and effects of inspirational teachers and teaching, and how school environments can nurture and encourage inspirational teaching to take place.
So to start with, what does it mean? What does inspiration mean? I've got a few definitions here. The first definition suggests something to do with being mentally stimulated to do something, perhaps something creative. The second definition suggests that it's something to do with enthusiasm or being made to feel enthusiasm. Perhaps it's also got some to do with emotional engagement or excitement about an activity, and obviously what we're talking about is educational activities - going to class.
So as part of the beginning of the project, we did a very large literature review, reading books and published articles about other people's research into inspirational teaching so we could try to find out an answer about what does inspirational teaching really look like? And we sort of distilled many hours of reading into this slide, saying, Okay, inspirational teaching is going to motivate students to want to do their work and to want to do well by putting in a lot more effort. I will open their minds to trying something new to new ideas.
Inspirational teaching is enjoyable for teachers and for the students. Something like a journey of discovery that they go on together. Inspirational teaching is not rigid, it's flexible, and teachers can change a lesson plan moment by moment depending on what's happening in the classroom. Inspirational teaching isn't something that ends with an exam or with a grade. It's something that lasts perhaps a lifetime and affects the way that students perceive themselves and the way in which they consider their future goals and ambitions for their lives.
The final point I think that's interesting is that it's quite rare. If we were to just say someone's an effective teacher, that might be more common than someone who inspires people with a lifelong love of learning or a lifelong love of a certain subject. It's also important to note that not every student is going to be inspired by a teacher who is inspirational to some of his or her students. And the idea that you can please some of the people some of the time, but there are some perhaps reasons why certain students might never find a certain teacher to be inspirational to them.
So I think it's important if we open our minds for a moment and think back to a teacher who inspired you, just take maybe a few seconds. Someone whose classes you enjoyed were excited to go to, someone who gave you a lifelong love of learning. Doesn't have to be a teacher, I suppose. Alright, now, this individual that you're picturing might have a classroom that looks a bit like this or might do some of the things shown in the pictures here. Chances are they gave good feedback, one on one feedback is timely and goal-directed with the feedback that was given. They got graded homework and had good classroom discipline and you know, was always attending meetings and collaborating with his or her colleagues. And these are the sorts of things that are relatively easy to assess or to observe in a fellow teaching colleague. So you look through a window and you see these sorts of things and you think probably a good teacher. But there's something that's missing from this picture, from these pictures. The idea of the inspirational teacher, and it brought back to my mind a film that I watched when I was much younger. Those of you who have seen it will recognise this. This is Robin Williams, starring in the film Dead Poets Society. The story of a truly inspirational English literature teacher who, well, you can see how his students felt about him. There's excitement, there's joy, there's passion. There's something very, very different going on in this picture compared to what's going on here. Obviously, we can't spend all of our time as teachers being carried around on a students shoulders like this. And this is perhaps an idealised, overly dramatised version of what inspirational teaching might be. But it's certainly when I wanted to become a teacher is something that I was aiming towards. I thought that's what I want to be. That's how I wanted my students to see me.
Now having reviewed the research, a different body of research into, well, you know what inspirational teaching is, but who are these inspirational teachers? And again, many hours of reading distilled. The first thing that they all have in common is they're all knowledgeable and effective professional teachers. They have all the skills that you can teach a teacher in a PGCE or any other teacher training programme. But that's sort of a baseline as far as we can tell, beyond which you have to add something else. It's a bit of a relief to me to find out that there was absolutely no connection between how good you are with computers or technology or specific teaching methodologies. The sort of razzmatazz of teaching was not really seen to be required of an inspirational teacher. So the bells and whistles weren't needed, but what came across time and time again in the research was that these are supportive, friendly, caring people. They take an interest in the students as individuals. They're patient, they're kind, they trust the students and the students trust them. These are people who know how to have fun and they use humour in the classroom. It seems that sarcasm was the one type of humour that students didn't like. It was interesting because it reminded me of the Pink Floyd song about education, which some of you will know about.
What else are these inspirational teachers like? Well, they were positive, enthusiastic. They seemed to enjoy coming to school. They seemed to enjoy being in the classroom, and they seemed to enjoy the relationships that they had with the students. They set high expectations. They allowed students to believe in themselves and they believed in the students as well. And the funny thing was that it came across a few times was these teachers often felt, Well, I don't do anything special. I'm nothing. You know, I'm nothing amazing. Even though the students would have felt quite differently about the teacher.
So what were our aims then, what were our aims in this project. Well, we wanted to synthesise everything that we read and build a model, something simple that other teachers could read and look at, perhaps leaders could look at and make it easy to understand what are inspirational teachers like, who are they? How can we recognise them? How can they recognise themselves? And then what could we offer to teachers who want to be more inspirational? What are the things that you could do? Could there be strategies? Could there be training? Could there be things that we want to encourage to help teachers be more inspirational? And then the question about, well, what are the features of schools that allow teachers to be more inspirational? In everyday lives or perhaps prevent them from being as inspirational as they could be?
So this is Abraham Maslow, and anyone who has studied business or management or I think psychology will have heard of Maslow and after a lot of thinking, he became the inspiration for the model we came up with. This is a quote about this connected with his very well known hierarchy of needs. The idea that and for those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, here it is here's one version of Maslow's hierarchy, and Maslow's hierarchy states that to become self-actualised, to fulfil yourself, to become truly happy and self-fulfilled, let's just put it that way. You have these progressively higher order needs, at the lowest of which the physiological needs are simple biological requirements, if you like, that we need to have to stay alive and then moving upwards. You go through safety, family and love, self esteem, and then you finally become self-actualised. Obviously this is in the context of careers. I thought that we could put this into our own hierarchy, a hierarchy to becoming an inspirational teacher.
And one thing that came to mind was the skills of being an effective teacher, the pedagogy that all of the teachers in the literature showed were very much like the baseline of such a hierarchy. So if anyone wants to be an inspirational teacher, you have to have the skills of lesson planning,organisation, you can read through all their classroom management. And the reason why they were put on the bottom of this hierarchy was it was hard to imagine a teacher who didn't have all these skills ever being able to engender students with a love of learning to really take them to this next level and to have the respect of their students.vAnd so they were considered to be the sort of entry level abilities if you wanted to be an inspirational teacher. So we could call that pedagogy.
Now above that I put the virtues. Now, virtues are different from skills. Virtues are not things that you... like skills are things that you do. And that you can be trained to and observe to have. Whereas virtues are things that you are and you demonstrate them by doing them as a part of your everyday life or by being them.
Now, we decided to put relationships as the next level of the hierarchy. The attributes, the behaviours that let a teacher have a good relationship, the right type of relationship with their students, such that they can inspire them would be having that sense of humour, being kind, compassionate and so on and so forth. Now, the reason why relationships came after pedagogy is because perhaps those of us who've been in teaching as long as as long as I have and Judson as well, know that if you've got relationships with the students and they love you and they're looking forward to your class but you don't have a good pedagogy, you become one of those teachers who is like they don't respect, they look forward to your class but maybe that's because you're not really doing any work where you don't have anything organised. So you put relationships next and then above that in green, we have what I call passion. And then you have the teacher who is enthusiastic. They love their subject but they love teaching as a career as well. And they're excited by learning. They're creative, lessons are not something that comes out just a worksheet or just a sort of something they've downloaded without any thought. They bring themselves to it. They create it and they set high expectations for their students because they believe in what they're doing as a teacher. Now, why did passion come ahead of relationships?
Well, once again, this didn't come from directly from any research paper, this is something that we came up with the idea that perhaps if you're enthusiastic and charismatic, but you don't have good relationships with your students, first, you might just be seen as someone who is not a likeable character, not encouraging or supportive, but, you love the subject. It might be very hard for students to be on board with a teacher like that to go on the journey of learning with that teacher without having that relationship first. Now, obviously, this is a theoretical model. It's not designed to be the truth in any real sense of this is what all inspirational teachers are like, It's just it's just some ideas for people to think about.
Now. Sometimes things are fun when you look at what we call counterexamples. Now, when we look back at the pyramid of inspirational teaching, perhaps it all looks very obvious. Perhaps when we look at the teacher who's got all the skills, let's say in yellow at the bottom, this teacher's got every pedagogical skill, but they don't have a sense of humour. They might be cruel or indifferent or unfriendly. Students just don't like them. And then we go up to the passion, there's no passion, they’re bored, cynical, they're lifeless. The lessons are not fun. Well, of course, you're going to get an uninspirational teacher. You can have kids who don't want to go to the class. They don't want to learn from that teacher.
So finally we thought, Well, what is it about a school environment that can make a teacher be more or less inspirational and the part of these results came not only from the reading that we did, the research, but also questionnaires we had over I think there's 45 teachers fill in surveys after seeing this presentation and just ask them solicit from them, what do you think helps you to be more inspirational based on everything we've said?
So the first thing that came across was work life balance and workload and the opposite of someone who doesn't have that suffers from burnout, which is actually an area of fairly recent research that's been taking place. Teacher burnout is known to be a huge problem, not only in teachers coming to class, inspirational, but mostly in terms of teacher retention, just keeping teachers in the job. Thousands and thousands of teachers quit every year because of burnout. So how can you be inspirational if you're burnt out?
Second important point was an environment where you feel autonomous. You feel that you can be creative, you can do lessons, you want your way, and part of that is linked to how the leadership view you as a professional.
The third point is teachers who want to be inspirational need to know that what is valued in the community is not just grades and the assessments that the kids earn, it's just learning, just students who love learning, who are enjoying class, who are being excited. That's something that's valued, that's something that is cared about in the school environment.
Professional learning is an important part of this. Having social networks, having a community of learners, we do have that at UWCSEA with our professional learning communities. These are set up by teachers and for teachers that teachers aren't told what they need to learn. They're told you can find out what you need to learn. What are you interested in? How are you going to be a better teacher? And they follow their own interests to get around professional development.
And finally, when it comes down to leadership. Leaderships that support and trust. Leadership that supports and trusts teachers, not generating stress, not wasting time with bureaucracy and endless meetings, but trusting teachers to believe in them that they want to be inspirational, that they want to bring that love of learning that they have to their own students.
So I will just end there. I'd be really delighted if anyone wants to join me for a discussion afterwards with any ideas, questions, thoughts that you might have. This paper has actually been accepted for publication, a much longer version of the presentation that I've given. So if anyone wants to read the early notes or the pre-publication paper, I'd be happy to share it with you.
So I just like to say thank you very much and I look forward to speaking to some of you a little bit later. And that's all.